Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

It all boils down to Evian's famous healing waters


It all comes down to what the ancient Celts of Europe called "evua" -- water.

It starts high in the Alps as rain and melted snow and ice, then filters through the soil for 15 years before springing fresh and cool from the earth, giving Evian its name, fame and fortune.

Now the town, wedged between craggy alpine peaks and Lake Geneva, hopes that its hosting of the G8 summit from June 1 to 3 will get the word out: Evian is more than just a name on a bottle.

"People think it's just water here," said Daniel Urli, 26, a baker who lives outside Evian and works in Geneva, Switzerland. "The location, next to the lake, not far from Geneva -- people don't know about it."

The deluge of world leaders, delegations and journalists during the meeting of the globe's industrial powers and Russia will be the biggest thing to happen in years in Evian, a tranquil hamlet of 7,500 people.

Preparations are well underway. Steel barriers line the streets leading to the Hotel Royal where the summit will take place; carpenters work at a conference center in town that delegations will use.

Water aside, Evian certainly has its charms. The village started as a walled castle town in the 13th century as part of the duchy of Savoy and was a favorite playground for the princes.

The main church, the chateau and the medieval hospital all date from that period.

The town has views to match. The town slopes down to the lake, which is narrow enough for people in Evian to see clear across to Lausanne. Green forested hills dotted with stone farmhouses ring the water.

Evian also has its dark side. It was here at the Hotel Royal in July 1938 that a conference called by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was held to discuss the plight of German and Austrian Jewry under the Nazis.

The conferees, however, citing economic and other troubles, failed to work out a division of the burden of hosting refugees, dashing the hopes of Jews and other persecuted minorities of escaping Hitler.

The upcoming summit has already brought its incongruities. As part of security preparations, helicopters clatter over the landscape periodically, and an occasional fighter jet roars across the picturesque lake.

Friction between France and the US is also on people's minds. The French government was an outspoken critic of the US-led war against Iraq, and bad feelings between the two persist.

Some there said it was too bad that Evian's few days in the limelight will come at a time of such discord. There is still talk that Washington could try to punish France for its stance.

Others are hoping that the summit will help heal the trans-Atlantic rift.

Whatever happens during the summit, you can be sure they'll all partake of Evian's mineral water.

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